Blueprint for Bertie

Published 8:23 am Thursday, August 21, 2014

ROXOBEL – After nearly eighteen months, an economic development plan for Bertie County was unveiled Monday at the Bertie County Board of Commissioner’s meeting held at the Roxobel Community Building.

The plan was collaborative effort of the Commissioners and the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at UNC Chapel Hill in formulating an Economic Development Plan for the county’s future. The idea was designed to rally community involvement, and as part of that the Institute hosted a series of events in an effort to gauge where Bertie residents saw themselves in the next five-to-seven years, and how they would like to get there.

Steve Biggs, executive director of the county’s Economic Development Commission, introduced the Institute’s Strategic Economic Growth director, Mark Little, who summarized the group’s work over the past year and a half.

“This partnership has been a wonderful experience in getting to know the county and the people of this county and all the folks who care about this county,” Little said.

“This is a different kind of plan than most plans you may have seen,” he added. “All of the information we gathered and all the meetings we held are part of partnerships we’ve developed and they continue to this day.”

The Institute’s plan not only dealt with some of the challenges the county faces with economic development, but also tried to outline what it recommends needs to be done to overcome some of those challenges.

Some of the findings included:

–       A willing workforce of currently under-employed and unemployed residents; but available jobs are too few, don’t pay a living wage and/or require high qualifications.

–       Education and training opportunities that exist, but are far from where people live.

–       Abundant opportunities for new and existing small businesses aimed at keeping spending dollars within the county.

–       Businesses that want to locate in Bertie County, but have limited available land options.

–       Abundant resources that are underutilized and poorly marketed due to limited coordination & cooperation.

–       Lack of access to banks and financial services

–       Outstanding community organizations, but ones that need more support and coordination.

The group proposed a plan of empowerment for those who desire better job opportunities with targeted training, accelerating the work of community leaders and organizations, and jump-starting and marketing available resources.

“Many existing initiatives are already moving Bertie County closer to a collective vision of the future,” Little said. “The training exists here, but a lot of residents just aren’t familiar with what’s here and where to find it.”

Following the presentation several of the commissioners commented.

“There’s a segment of our population that we’re going to have to work with that they can gain a basic level of skills to be ready to get trained,” said Commissioner Ronald D. “Ron” Wesson.

“We have to have recreational involvement,” said Commissioner John Trent. “These are things that are needed for economic growth to all come together.  Now we’ve got to think of other areas where we’re moving.”

Benjamin Speller, a Bertie resident in attendance at the meeting, proposed a workshop to assist in implementing some of the proposals from the Institute.

“We’re marketing our strengths,” said Trent. “These include our land, our agriculture, our timber, our biomass, and we’re creating excitement in industry.  This is a fantastic start and it boils down to marketing. Let’s forget about the past and market what our strengths are. Our intentions are to get the people excited and get them moving.”

After the presentation Commission Chairman J. Wallace Perry thanked the Institute group – some 30 members who were in attendance that worked on the project – for their hard work.